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Candidates look to November after Howard County Board of Education primary

Candidates look to November after Howard County Board of Education primary
At a watch party on primary night, Kirsten Coombs, who placed first in the Howard County school board race, strategizes her next steps leading up to the Nov. 8 general election. (Fatimah Waseem / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Late into the evening on April 26, as several Howard County Board of Education candidates chatted at local primary watch parties, Jackie McNamara and dozens of other county residents scanned social media to see which of these candidates would advance to the Nov. 8 general election.

"And that is something I think is unheard of for a Board of Education race," said McNamara, who has two children who have attended Howard County schools. "It really shows how engaged people are and how much they wanted to know."

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McNamara, who volunteered to talk to voters at Lake Elkhorn Middle School on Election Day, said that she was "so excited" about the results.

"Getting two incumbents out at the primary stage was, I think, more than we could've hoped for," she said.

Over the past few months, critics of the school system, including parents, educators and some state legislators, have called for a change in the makeup of the county's Board of Education. They say that the current school board rubber stamps Superintendent Renee Foose's decisions and is unresponsive to community input, as well as resistant to requests for public information

On Election Day, primary voters knocked two of three incumbents — Ann De Lacy and Ellen Flynn Giles, who placed eighth and ninth – from the race.

"Things won't change without changing the makeup of the board," McNamara said. "The challengers have promised to be much more thoughtful about their decision making, and with all the public attention on the race, it will be easy to hold them to their word."

With all the returns in, including provisional and absentee ballots, Kirsten Coombs, Christina Delmont-Small, Mavis Ellis, incumbent Janet Siddiqui, Vicky Cutroneo and Robert Miller earned the most votes in that order, and will advance to the Nov. 8 general election to compete for three seats on the school board.

Siddiqui, who placed fourth, could not be reached for comment as of Tuesday afternoon.

"The people have spoken," said De Lacy, who was elected to the board in 2012 and previously led the Howard County Education Association. "The voters elected the people they wanted to elect."

De Lacy said she would continue to be involved in the community and in the school system as she had been for many years before serving on the board.

"I'll continue to be a strong supporter of Dr. Foose and her vision," she said.

Giles, who has sat on the school board since 2004, did not respond to several calls for comment on the results of the primary.

State Del. Warren Miller, who represents western Howard County in the General Assembly and has been a vocal critic of the current board and superintendent, said he was "thrilled" by the primary results.

"I think that it shows that Howard County citizens care about their school system," said Miller, a Republican.

Even though he didn't advance, Corey Andrews was not too disappointed about the results.

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He and Miller were neck and neck as the results came in the night of the election, and at one point were separated by six votes.

"I definitely want to say I did a little better than I expected," said the youngest candidate in the race, who is 21. "I think we had a great accomplishment with getting five challengers through. And I'm glad Ann and Ellen didn't. Because we need a change in leadership on the board."

At a candidate watch party at Iron Bridge Wine Company on the night of the primary, front runner Kirsten Coombs, who received 34,687 or 17.5 percent of the votes, had already begun to strategize for the general election.

Coombs calls her success a "story with many authors."

"I have worked so hard over the past year to talk to people in the community — community leaders, our elected politicians — and people around the community, the parents, teachers, principals," said the Columbia parent and former accountant. "So I've really worked around the community to get support, and I think that was demonstrated on Tuesday night."

Ahead of the November elections, Coombs said she was going to need as much help as she can get.

"So I've gotta get out there and work," she said after attending a County Council work session on the school system budget. "But I'm continuing to do my homework; I'm coming to budget sessions like this, because this is going to be my life for the next four years, and maybe beyond that. I just have to continue working both in the community and proving to people that I'm doing homework and that I really understand the process."

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